When I first moved to Raleigh, I needed to find a good doctor. Not a specialist or anything but just someone that would take the time to listen to me. I can’t remember how I found him but I made my first appointment with Dr. Karam and was a little apprehensive on my first visit.
In the waiting room, I found that I was the youngest patient there by about four decades. I was worried. Perhaps the doctor was equally as old and simply pushing pills on patients that would be around for a long time anyway. (And don’t dismiss my skepticism. It happens everywhere but especially in Florida!)
When I was finally called back, I met a genuine man who spent what felt like an hour with me. Focused on me and getting to know me. I even remember telling him how run down I felt and he suggested I go for a shot of B12 in the rear since it was what all the old ladies came to him for! I declined but I saw him for quite some time until distance and circumstances led me to change doctors.
Back in my twenties, I didn’t think that much about medical care. I needed to see a general practitioner for my twice yearly upper respiratory infection of unknown name and origin. And I needed to see a gynecologist for my yearly, ahem, exam.
My mother recommended her OB/GYN and it seemed as good as any. I didn’t care if I saw a man or woman and didn’t really care about the obstetrician side of things. Although I was young and fertile, I was far from any thoughts of children so it didn’t really matter to me.
Fast forward a decade or so and I needed more than a gynecologist. I was pregnant! I was 35 years old and completely clueless. None of my siblings had children (except my brother who lives in China) and most of my good friends didn’t have kids or were well past the child-rearing years.
So I went to the OB/GYN feeling nervous and awkward and just generally out of place. But the nurses were wonderful. They talked me through the paperwork and my first ultrasound and explained the whole process. It was going to be okay.
“The process,” however, included multiple prenatal visits with multiple doctors. This office, when it came to obstetrics, was more like a factory. You didn’t have a primary obstetrician because any one doctor could be on call at any given time. They wanted us to get to know all of the doctors.
The problem with that was that there was no real relationship being built with any given doctor. And I repeatedly felt over and over that although this experience was new to me (it was my one and only baby!), I was just one of hundreds if not thousands of patients that passed through there.
It all came to a head one night when my husband and I were driving out of town for a weekend in the mountains. Call it a babymoon or whatever. We just wanted to see the pretty leaves in the fall. But on the drive, I started experiencing a lot of pain and discomfort in the upper right quadrant of my belly. By the time we reached our cabin, I was in tears. I don’t remember if it was from the pain or simply the not knowing if what I was feeling was potentially normal.
At 11pm, I decided to take the plunge and call the office for the on-call physician. I left a detailed message about exactly what I was experiencing and left my number for a return phone call. About 15 minutes later, I heard a rather annoyed woman on the other end asking me what the problem was. I went into the same detail that I left on the voicemail feeling that she hadn’t really bothered to listen.
I explained the pain and my concern at being out of town and wondering if I should be worried.
“I don’t know. I can’t diagnose you over the phone.”
Almost shocked by her response, I asked her what I should do about the pain since it was really uncomfortable. Again, her response kind of shocked me.
“Well, if the pain is THAT bad, then go to the Emergency Room.”
I got off the phone in tears feeling so dismissed without even one shred of concern. And when I arrived back in town for my next prenatal visit, she was the doctor I was scheduled to see.
At this point, I was six months pregnant andI walked in terrified that she would scold me for calling her on a Saturday night but she had no recollection of ever speaking to me. There were no notes in my file and even when I talked to her about the pain and discomfort I was still feeling, there were no signs of recognition.
As I described the pain again, she simply said, “It sounds like you have nerve compression.”
“What can you do to help with the pain”? I asked.
“Wait three months,” she said as flatly as possible.
Thankfully, I never had to see her again and the only time her name came up was when the time came to schedule my C-section. They slated me for January 23rd and I asked who the doctor on-call was. It was her.
Never one to pull a diva move, I had to take a stand. No, I told them. I will not let her deliver my baby. Anyone but her. And so they scheduled my C-section for the very next day, changing my son’s birth date but allowing me to welcome him into the world with a wonderful obstetrician who I’m told retired not long after that.
While the internet is often an alarmist environment, it’s amazing to me the wealth of knowledge, experience, and support we can gain just from connecting with someone who’s “been there.” It’s a lesson obstetricians and doctors everywhere could stand to learn.